Texas A&M 9 ... Nebraska 6
Nebraska, either you're going to count on Taylor Martinez, or you're not.
If you can't, you need to adjust your offensive philosophy.
Head coach Bo Pelini said he pulled Martinez because of an ankle problem, and not necessarily because No. 3 wasn't moving the offense.
And then Martinez came back on the field in the second half.
The Huskers have suddenly gone from winning games because of Ndamukong Suh
and a dominating defense, to relying too much on the offense, and
they're struggling with their consistency. Because of Martinez's injury problems, the Husker offense has been
all over the map from one week to the next, and when he isn't rocking,
neither is the attack.
Even though Rex Burkhead averaged 5.7 yards per pop and Roy Helu, Jr. averaged 5.8 yards per try,
the points weren't coming and there were too many stalls because it's an
attack that needs to hit the home run to work. No big running plays
equals no Nebraska offensive production in a game when just one
touchdown would've changed everything.
16 penalties and two interceptions had a lot to do with Nebraska's woes,
and the Aggie defense stood on its head at times, but for a team that
was so dynamic offensively early on, especially compared to last year's
disaster, it's looking a lot like the dark times of 2009. That Nebraska
is so good and so dominant when Martinez is on, and the running game was
so special against Missouri when Helu set the school's single-game
rushing record, it's almost like the team is sometimes waiting for
something to happen that isn't going to, and there's no adjustment that
can be made. Either they're going to keep running the spread and wait
for the burst, or they're going to struggle and hope the breaks go the
right way. They didn't go the right way against A&M.
The Huskers weren't in the national title hunt anyway, not after the
ugly home loss to Texas, and this game really didn't matter as long as
they beat Colorado next week. Allowing nine points should always be good
enough to win, and the running game did work when the backs were able to
get a little bit of room. But this was supposed to be a sleeper national
title contender coming into this season, and it might be next year. But
as this game showed, the offense needs more weapons, and more ideas.
Welcome back to relevance, A&M.
That was about as ugly a big game as you'll see all season. There were more penalties, including some really questionable ones on Nebraska, and not a single touchdown over the course of 60 minutes. Yet, you could still see the beauty shining through on this one. The fact is that Texas A&M is good for college football, embodying what makes the sport so unique and special. From the 12th to the Aggie Yell and every tradition in between, this is one of those programs that's sorely missed when it doesn't occasionally make its way on to the national stage. And it's been a while since A&M mattered.
The last time the Aggies had a winning season was 2007. Won a bowl game? 2001. Won 10 games? You've got to go all the way back to 1998. This program has been, at best, mediocre for a long time. Off the radar is where it's called home for more than a decade, but that's slowly beginning to change. Is Texas A&M back? It's way too early to say, but since bottoming out with a 30-9 loss to Missouri on Oct. 16, it's won five straight, the last three over ranked teams. Even more important, though, is that it's winning a spot back on to the national landscape and into the consciousness of college fans.
Even if only for a single night, Texas A&M won a meaningful game in front of a larger than usual viewing audience. That stood out brightly, like a lake in the desert, in an otherwise dreadful 9-6 games marred by suspect officiating and an ankle injury that left the game's biggest offensive star hobbling around or in the locker room most of the night.
By Matt Zemek
Officiating should be avoided as a central source of a game's outcome. Wading into the realms of bias, motivation and judgment calls is always murky and fraught with risk. Pointing out officiating disparities and errors will always invite the possibility that a given line of analysis will come across as whining or – in a different vein – an attempt to paper over a team's genuine on-field deficiencies. There are very good reasons to steer clear of officiating as a main topic of postgame discussion.
However, there are always exceptions to this and many other commonly-accepted ideas which form the solid core of legitimate commentary on sporting events. The game between Nebraska and Texas A&M is one such case.
Let's not try to pretend that the 16 penalties called against Nebraska, compared to just two for A&M, didn't carry a disproportionate degree of impact in an even-steven and hard-fought defensive battle. Let's not try to deny that the reality of Nebraska leaving the Big 12 didn't loom over the proceedings at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas. Does this mean there was a conspiracy? No. Let's nip that in the bud. However, the words "appearance (or suggestion) of impropriety" will trip from a lot of lips Sunday and Monday morning. That's not good for Dan Beebe's image as the commissioner of a league that might not be long for this world.
Most importantly, let's not ignore the woeful, this-cannot-possibly-be-true nature of the roughing-the-passer penalty called on Nebraska's Courtney Osborne (what an ironic last name, eh?) late in the fourth quarter. The hit – which was not late, and which did not hit any part of A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill's helmet – failed to meet any standard for a personal-foul penalty. It was as standard-issue a hit as anything seen on any gridiron in week 12. Yet, it drew a piece of yellow laundry, and it directly led to the Aggies' game-winning field goal. It's impossible to look at this game and not conclude that one call – a judgment call poorly arrived at and then unrevoked – decided the outcome. It's not as though the Aggies made a good play or did anything to render the flag a moot point. It was a gift, and a gift that carried more than a little weight.
What should also be said in light of this A&M victory is that Nebraska can't exactly say it outplayed the Aggies in College Station. When you score only six points, you can assign only so much blame to the zebras, even though they were horrid and far too influential for anyone's taste or comfort. If Nebraska could have cultivated a credible backup quarterback so that Taylor Martinez wouldn't have to drag his injured body across the gridiron, maybe the Huskers – who, let's remember, were brutally bad on offense last year – might not be sitting in a similar spot this season. A few weeks ago, Nebraska looked like the clear, even overwhelming, favorite in the Big 12 Championship Game. Now, "Big Red" needs to beat Colorado just to get to JerryWorld in Arlington, Texas. Moreover, if the Huskers do indeed reach that final destination in their Big 12 chapter of their football history, they probably won't be favored anymore. Unless the Huskers get an infusion of offense and a credible passing threat, they're not going to top one of the Oklahoma schools that's now poised to win the Big 12 South, be it in a three-way logjam or a two-way tiebreaker.